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‘Murphy Brown’ has aged well as it returns to TV after two decades

September 26, 2018

After a 20-year hiatus, Murphy Brown hasnt softened its liberal agenda, as it almost immediately launches into a full-throttle attack on the current administration that should annoy President Donald Trump more than Alec Baldwin, LeBron James and Rosie ODonnell combined.

But the sitcom, returning Thursday for a 13-episode run, also delivers a nonpartisan and ultimately more intriguing message: Senior lives matter.

The premise Brown reunites the old gang for a cable-news morning show offers creator Diane English and star Candice Bergen plenty of opportunity to vent their frustrations.

Some of the jokes have shades of sophisticated wit, as when Brown describes a Fox News-like rival as a place where all male anchors are conspiracy theorists and all the women are dead behind the eyes.

Most do not. If you think lines about Jeff Sessions height, Trumps hair and Steve Bannons pomposity sound original, you havent watched late-night TV for two years.

What is refreshing is that the sophomoric hijinks are being pulled by a crew of elders that is as sexy and animated as the cast of Riverdale.

Investigative reporter Frank Fontana (69-year-old Joe Regalbuto) is still chasing skirts, even if he has to stop to catch his breath between pickup lines. New bar owner Phyllis (Tyne Daly, 72) has all the spunk and sarcasm of Carla in the first season of Cheers. At 54, Faith Ford may still be the kid, but its great fun to watch her Corky Sherwood character deal with hot flashes and the fact that the new wave of comely journalists are starting to lap her.

And then theres Bergen, who at 72 seems even younger than she did when she picked up five Emmys in a row back in the 1990s. Her Twitter war with the current president is just as lively as any shoe-down between Cardi B and Nicki Minaj. She practically glides across the screen during a sequence when she goes undercover as a French journalist to break into a White House press conference. Theres even a scene in which she dances, although she busts her move while sitting on the living-room sofa.

English deserves credit for avoiding creaky premises. The shows most dramatic thread has Brown competing against her son, who despite his lefty leanings has gone to work for the conservative news channel. But instead of filling the scripts with bickering, the 70-year-old writer has given the pair an easygoing rapport and genuine affection for each other, a rarity in sitcoms.

English has promised a very special guest star in Thursdays premiere, one that was not revealed in the preview episodes made available to critics.

In a perfect world, the visitor would be the eternally youthful Betty White. Shed fit right in.

njustin@startribune.com

612-673-7431

Twitter: @nealjustin

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